A Festival of Lights and Liberty Stories


In 2003, the janjaweed militia invaded Hawa’s hometown in Sudan and she was kidnapped along with 50 other women and separated from her family, her village ripped apart by violence.
After escaping the militia, Hawa journeyed to what would become the Abu Shouk displaced persons camp. She studied English, worked as an interpreter for the UN peacekeeping force, and began advocacy work with international human rights’ organizations. Despite being arrested and subject to abuse so severe that her guards wondered how she managed to cling to life, Hawa insisted that she would always continue to advocate for women and children.
In 2011, Hawa fled to Cairo and it was there she learned that she was one of 10 women to be awarded the US State Department “International Women of Courage Award.” Hawa arrived in Washington, DC on March 3rd, 2012, to accept her award and filed for asylum. Her interview was set for February 2013, and she was granted asylum three days later.
Hawa lives with a host family in Philadelphia, where she continues her advocacy work. Her parents and twelve siblings remain in Sudan. 


Mr. Ziegler

Mr. Ziegler arrived in the United States in 2003 when he was 74 years old. In St. Petersburg, he had been well-educated, and for years had worked as an assistant director for a Russian factory. However, he spoke not a word of English. Already retired when he came to the USA, Mr. Ziegler received social security benefits that helped him to afford subsidized housing, but such assistance would be only temporary unless he was able to become an American citizen.
Mr. Ziegler wore hearing aids and found the study of English very challenging. Although he was urged to seek a medical waiver that would eliminate the language and civics requirements of the citizenship exam, Mr. Ziegler was determined to learn English and pass the test. For years, he took as many English classes as he could.
As Mr. Ziegler approached the time to apply for citizenship, he enrolled in a citizenship course and prepared his application. He passed the exam, and just two weeks before his 80th birthday, Mr. Ziegler became a United States Citizen. 


Abdal and Amirah

Refugees in the United States meet many challenges. Although escaping circumstances where they might be in danger on a day-to-day basis, refugees encounter new trials in learning to adapt to societies quite different from their societies of origin. When Abdal and Amirah arrived in the United States from Sudan in 2012, they were in their late 30s. With their young children, the couple settled in Philadelphia and sought connections in their new neighborhood. With the help of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Abdal and Amirah began to work a plot at a community garden tended largely by Burmese, Bhutanese, and Sudanese refugees. In the garden, they have the opportunity grow some of their own food, including vegetables common in Sudan. More than that, they have the opportunity to grow community, gardening alongside new neighbors. Abdal and Amirah now have a garden at their home, but they continue to tend their plot in the community garden. Despite all the hardships they’ve faced, in Sudan and in the United States, when she’s gardening Amirah smiles and sings.



PK called Bhutan home, but he also spoke Nepalese. When the Bhutanese government enacted a “One Nation, One People” policy in the early 1990s, it exiled families like PK’s, which had settled in Bhutan over a century prior. Community leaders of all stripes were arrested and tortured, their homes destroyed and the names of their villages and towns changed to promote the unified image the government wished to present. PK’s family spent 17 years living in United Nations-managed refugee camps in eastern Nepal.
Life in the refugee camps was harsh. There was no electricity, the weather fluctuated wildly, there was poor sanitation, and malnourishment was common. Although the UN provided some healthcare, it wasn’t sufficient. PK, despite the difficulty of his circumstances, obtained a college degree in India and a masters’ degree in Thailand. In 2008, after years of Nepalese efforts to allow Bhutanese refugees to return to their homes, the United States began to resettle families like PK’s. PK attended school in Atlanta and now works in Philadelphia.



Joni grew up in Chile and came to the United States with her partner. When her partner proved abusive, Joni took their two American-born children and separated from him. With no money, Joni climbed back to her feet and found a job that would provide for her family. She met another man who was good to her and became a father figure for her kids. When they decided to buy a home together, Joni used her savings but her partner’s name, because he had documents and she did not. Once they moved in, Joni’s partner changed. He drank heavily, yelled at the children, and became controlling of Joni, not allowing her to leave the house except to go to work.  Threatened with being kicked out with nowhere to go, Joni sought to reconcile, but when he became physically abusive, she left.
Joni was afraid to seek legal help but went to the police nonetheless. She succeeded in obtaining U non-immigration status as a victim of domestic violence, received a work permit, and is on the path to citizenship.

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